Gulf oil spill: BP grilled over choice of dispersant
Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) used some of his time in the House Transportation and Infrastructure hearing Wednesday to grill the head of BP America, Lamar McKay, over the company's choice of an oil dispersant that is rated as more toxic and less effective than several others.
Hall noted that the company that makes the dispersant, Nalco Holding, has a former BP executive on its board. He was referring to Rodney F. Chase, a veteran of the British oil giant, who sits on the board of Nalco. Stock prices of Nalco rose on news that it was providing large quantities of the dispersant to be used in the spill.
Here's some of the back-and-forth:
Hall: Mr. McKay, I was curious about the choice of dispersant, Corexit 9500,which is being manufactured by a company called Nalco Holding Co. in which a former 11-year board member of BP sits on the Nalco board. Do you know approximately how much money BP has paid so far to Nalco for this dispersant?
McKay: I'm sorry, I don't.
Hall: Could you get the -- communicate that information, please.
McKay: We can get that.
Hall: Why do you think Corexit would have been chosen over, as Mr. Nadler [Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)] said, a less toxic and more effective product like Dispersit, for instance, which you would think would be a better choice, and did BP talk to -- did your company talk to the manufacturers of the other dispersants to find out if they were available?
McKay: I've not been personally involved in the choices around the dispersants and what's happened in terms of talking to companies and understanding the availability, the effectiveness or the choices they have made. We can get you some information on that. I've just not been involved in that.
Hall: My understanding is that the company that manufactures dispersant just for one out of the list of 13 approved dispersants says they could quickly produce 60,000 gallons per day which is more than is currently being used by BP for this spill as I understand it. So that would be a good conversation to have.
After Exxon Valdez, the dispersants were found to concentrate in the organs of certain fish and other marine life, and I assume they would do the same thing in the organs of human beings who consume those fish. As a condition for the subsurface application of Corexit, EPA directed BP to implement a monitoring plan on the plume including measuring the toxic effects of the mixture of dispersed oil and Corexit. What are the results of this monitoring? Are those results posted somewhere and available to the public?
McKay: The monitoring is ongoing. I believe it's being worked through Unified Command. I don't know how much of that has been posted or is public. But we can certainly get back to you on when it's expected to be and what -- as the results are tabulated. But there's constant monitoring going on under the direction of Unified Command and with the relevant government agencies.
Hall: Thank you. I'd appreciate a written response to that.
There was a similar exchange between McKay and Rep. Nadler:
Nadler: Corexit is 2.61 in toxicity, which means it's highly toxic. It has an effectiveness of 54.7 in the south Louisiana crude-oil spill.
[Dispersit] is 7.9 toxicity, which means it's a lot less toxic, but it has an effectiveness rate of 100%. Mare Clean 200, its toxicity rate is 42, which is much, much better. Its effectiveness rate is 84, compared to Corexit at 54.
Now, you remember you're under oath. Who decided -- and don't tell me the National Incident Command. They authorized the use, as I understand, of any dispersant on this list. Who decided which dispersant to use -- BP?
McKay: I don't know the --
Nadler: You don't know.
McKay: I don't know the individual who decided --
Nadler: I didn't ask the individual. Was it the BP who decided or was it the government who decided, or the National Incident Command?
McKay: I don't know. I don't --
Nadler: You don't know. Could you find out for us, please?
-- Geoff Mohan
Photo: Lamar McKay, left, chairman of BP America, with Transocean CEO Steven Newman and Halliburton's Tim Probert during last week's congressional testimony. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press